Hundreds of child welfare and family services organizations signed on to a letter asking House and Senate leadership for a massive boost to child welfare funding for the year as part of a possible next piece of stimulus legislation.
“Without interventions to support families, the kinds of stress that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating contribute to increased risk of child abuse and neglect,” said the letter, which was originated and circulated by a partnership of national groups known as the Child Welfare and Mental Health Coalition. “Strengthening the system to face these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the entire child welfare continuum. While we are grateful for Congress’s bipartisan actions to respond to the pandemic so far, they have not yet addressed these specific challenges.”
There were a few specific boosts to child welfare funding in the most recent stimulus bill, including $45 million for the Child Welfare Services program and $25 million for runaway and homeless youth. Following is a quick breakdown of the spending called for by the coalition, which totals out to at least $3 billion.
The coalition seeks $1 billion for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, which can be used to fund maltreatment prevention efforts ranging from the operation of abuse and neglect hotlines to home visiting programs or family resource centers. This would be a massive injection of new funds. Congress appropriated $55 million for it in 2020, but a few years ago, a commission on the prevention of maltreatment deaths recommended a permanent increase to $1 billion.
Another $1 billion would go to Promoting Safe and Stable Families, a part of the Title IV-B program that supports family preservation, reunification and supports for adoptive and guardianship parents.
Finally, the most complicated request: bringing the new federal reimbursement in foster care prevention in the Family First Prevention Services Act from 50 percent up to the state-by-state Federal Medical Assistance Percentage rate. For wealthier states this would still mean 50 percent; for the states with the lowest per-capita incomes, the match rate is above 70 percent. Federal reimbursement for foster care payments and adoption subsidies are already pegged to FMAP.
It is unclear from the letter if this is a permanent ask or a one-time request for the coming year. The Family First reimbursement is already scheduled to jump from 50 percent to the higher rate, but not until fiscal 2027.
The letter asks for $500 million for Title I of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, to help child protective services acquire “technological and protective resources to prevent the interruption of vital support services to children and families amidst this crisis.” This envisions that the social isolation measures will continue for a while, and that in-person investigations of abuse and neglect will keep “being disrupted in ways that put children at risk of great harm.”
The coalition also asks for $20 million for kinship navigators, programs that provide direct and referral services to relatives and close friends who are caring for the children of others, and $30 million more for the Court Improvement Program to help courts continue to hold critical child welfare hearings.
Older Foster Youth
The letter calls on leadership to increase the Chafee Independent Living Program by $500 million, offering rapid transitional living options for current and former foster youth up to the age of 23 (most states cap the program at age 21). This request is similar to one at the center of a social media campaign called #UpChafee. Absent from this request is a second ask from the #UpChafee campaign: raising the age threshold for federal foster care funds from 21 up to 22, essentially delaying an end to federal funds for foster care during the pandemic.
John Kelly can be reached at [email protected].